Saturday, June 8, 2013

Who's the Bigger Spy?

There's much discussion and, in some quarters, consternation about the U.S. Government tracking people's emails and telephone calls in the proclaimed interest of defeating terrorist plots. The debate usually centers on personal privacy and liberty vs. the need for the government to protect its citizens and non-citizens alike. Perhaps this same kind of scrutiny should be applied to looking at what private firms do with your emails and internet transactions. Google takes keywords out of every email you write (at least on gmail, but perhaps elsewhere too), and uses it to tailor the advertising that you receive during your online interactions. Two days ago, I ordered flowers online for commemoration of my sister's anniversary. Within an hour, I noticed that just about every online site I visited had advertisements for the flower vendor from which I had ordered. The same thing happens if you search for a product which you may someday want to buy or which about which you want information. A few months back I went on Google to look up the dimensions of a faucet, and immediately afterward, I was deluged with faucet advertising, both from the manufacturer in the inquiry and from others. If you are signed in to Google, they document everything you do online.

We learn to live with private firm invasions of privacy. Why is it so shocking when the government does a version of the same thing for national security purposes. The important thing to remember is that you shouldn't say or do anything online that you aren't willing for someone to see. I'm in a particularly bad situation. I write murder mysteries (See ), and I frequently search for poisons and other devices for causing mayhem in my books. I wonder what all of the internet spy organizations are saying about me? The fact is that your computer leaves records or footprints with every click and search and scan. Get used to it, or completely disconnect yourself from the internet forever. Isn't it amazing that mankind survived without the internet until twenty years ago? Can we do so again?